Research is perhaps the most defining feature of academic study in higher education.
In order to establish a full and balanced understanding of your subject, you will be required to undertake research that supplements your lectures and enables you to submit assignments of an appropriate standard. Much of your research will take place in the library, using books, journals and other resources, but increasingly you will find that using the Internet can be a very useful way to familiarise yourself with a subject, as well as access the many databases, search engines and electronic journals that are available.
Be warned, however: although the Internet is undoubtedly a powerful tool for any learner, you will need to be a discerning user. This involves selecting information carefully, and being aware of some of the following:
- Context. The exact context of much of the information on the web is unclear or obscured; sometimes, it has been deliberately taken out of context.
- Quality assurance. Unlike books and journals, most web-based articles have not been peer-refereed, edited or censored. The quality and integrity of the material is not, therefore, guaranteed.
Finally, the sheer volume of information on the Internet can be daunting. The ability to sift this information quickly and effectively is a more important academic skill now than it ever has been. Failure to develop this skill may result in feeling like you are drowning in information, and unable to get a foothold in your subject.
So that you can use the Internet wisely and heighten your awareness of the limitations and potential difficulties of web-based research, the following advice, critical use of the Internet, has been written.